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Weibo Watch: The Digital Torchbearer

What’s trending on Weibo? About the main media message of the Asian Games, the most controversial embrace, how the Huawei product launch generated a new popular word, and much more.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #15

This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – The digital torchbearer
◼︎ 2. What’s Trending – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What More to Know – Highlighting 8 hot topics
◼︎ 4. What Lies Behind – Nanyang’s Midi disaster
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – An inappropriate video
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Shaq’s China tour
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Special travel forces
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Far Ahead”

 

Dear Reader,

 

Following deadly attacks by Hamas, Israel launched a mega counter offensive after Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that the country is at war. The Israel-Palestine crisis, much like elsewhere globally, is a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the conflict on Saturday, expressing concerns about the escalating tensions and voicing China’s stance that civilians should be protected and that further deterioration should be prevented.

They also reiterated that the fundamental solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the path to peace, according to China, lies in the implementation of the “two-state solution” (两国方案) and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

While distressing images of innocent civilians, including children, suffering in the violence are circulating all over social media, there is an entirely different event that is attracting attention online as the Asian Games are coming to an end.

The 19th Asian Games closing ceremony on October 8th features a spectacular golden “digital torchbearer,” which was also featured in the opening ceremony, brought to life through augmented reality (AR) technology.

The giant ‘torchbearer’, who is named Nongchao’er (弄潮儿#), represent many things. Amongst others, Nongchao’er symbolizes technological innovation, not just in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, and the Asian Games, but also in China as a whole.

Chinese state media recently reported about all the digital highlights at the Hangzhou Asian Games, featuring innovative technological applications. Besides a ‘digital torchbearer,’ this also includes the launch of the first-ever metaverse platform for a major multi-sport event, electronic identity registration cards, and the exploration of 5.5G technology (#杭州亚运会上的数字智能亮点#).

Perhaps more important than all these initiatives themselves is the way they are propagated to a wider audience. Whether it is the Asian Games or the latest Huawei product launch, the narrative is all about China staying ahead, China as the pioneer, China as the innovative digital leader in a new world order.

Adding to this narrative is China’s achievement of its 200th gold medal at the Asian Games, and so the official media accounts focus on underscoring China’s success in both digital and sports arenas, making sure that everyone knows that ‘Team China’ is on the winning track.

Miranda Barnes has made contributions to this week’s newsletter. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me about the latest China trends you spotted and would like to know more about. Contact me via email or DM, or follow me on X for the latest news and trends (oh and I’m also active on Instagram here and here).

Best,
Manya

PS In case you missed it, some of the things I tweeted about:

➡️ X, formerly Twitter, prides itself in its community notes system. But especially when it comes to China-related news, these contributor notes can be deceiving. Tweet.

➡️ Spotted on Weibo: when you just ordered a Didi but also get the Chinese garden and teahouse experience for free. Tweet.

➡️ An unexpected viral sensation in light of the China visit by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and wife; the Chinese special agent and female bodyguard who accompanied them during their various activities in China. Tweet.

 

A closer look at the top stories

1: Thefts at Midi Music Festival | The many thefts and tent lootings at China’s Midi Music Festival that occurred during the National Day holiday in Nanyang have become a major topic on Chinese social media this week. What went wrong and who is to blame for so many festival-goers getting their personal belongings stolen from them?

Read more
 

2: Camel Jams | During this National Day public holiday, scenic spots all over China were super crowded with tourists. One spot that was especially popular this year is Dunhuang in Gansu. Six kilometers south of the city you find the “Singing Sand Mountains & Crescent Moon Spring” (鸣沙山月牙泉). The huge crowds visiting the area have attracted attention on Chinese social media, where people joke about the ‘camel jams’ (堵骆驼) happening due to so many tourists doing camel rides in the scenic area, causing enormous lines of camels throughout the desert.

Read more
 

3: Ongoing Discussions on ‘Cābiān’ | Chinese social media is seeing more discussions recenty on the blurred boundaries of cābiān. This seemingly never-ending discussion raises questions – not just about sexually suggestive content, but also about the evolving perceptions of women’s bodies and freedom in the digital age.

Read more
 

4: ‘Official’ Moment Caught on Camera | Two officials working at a local subdistrict office in Shandong are now suspended after a leaked video showed them engaging in sexual acts shortly after an online meeting. The secretary had allegedly forgot to turn the camera off after a team meeting.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Highlighting 8 hot topics

◼︎ 🔎 1. Evergrande Founder Facing Legal Troubles. China’s second-largest development firm Evergrande, all over the news due to its debt woes, has recently become a big topic of discussion once again as news came out that its billionaire chairman and founder, Hui Ka Yan (Xu Jiayin 许家印), is being investigated by the authorities for suspected criminal behavior and is currently under so-called residential surveillance. The criminal charges he potentially faces are yet unspecified. Shortly after the news came out, trading of the company’s shares was halted for two days. (Weibo hashtag: #许家印已被依法采取强制措施# Xu Jiayin Facing Legal Enforcement Measures, 830 million views).

◼︎ 📲 2. Huawei’s Champion Chip. Huawei just keeps making waves on Chinese social media these weeks. China’s tech giant held its fall product launch on September 25, showcasing new tablets, watches, TVs, and high-end smartphones. The event featured Hong Kong star Andy Lau endorsing the products with an emotional musical performance. The launch was very much anticipated because people had hoped to learn more about the Mate60 smartphone’s powerful Kirin 9000 chip, which was developed after the U.S. sanctions. However, there was no extra focus on the background of the chip, which is believed to be self-produced. (Hashtag “Huawei News Conference” ##华为发布会##, received 595 million views on September 25).

◼︎ 🇹🇭 3. Chinese among Bangkok Shooting Victims. The deadly Thai shopping mall shooting, which occurred in Bangkok on October 3rd, left at least two people dead and five others injured. Among the victims are two Chinese citizens, of which one is among the deceased. The news made quite an impact on Chinese social media, as Thailand just introduced its temporary visa-free travel policy for Chinese nationals in an effort to boost the tourism industry after the pandemic. Both victims from China had arrived in Thailand under the new policy. The Chinese female tourist who lost her life is leaving behind two young twin daughters, who were also present at the scene and witnessed their mother being shot. “Don’t go to Thailand, it’s not safe,” a typical comment on Weibo said. The shooter, only 14 years old, has been arrested and faces multiple charges. (Hashtags: “Three People Dead after Thai Mall Shooting” #泰国一商场发生枪击案已致3人死亡#, 220 million views; “Thai Prime Minister Apologizes to Chinese Ambassador” #泰国总理致电中国大使道歉#, 160 million views; “Chinese Victims in Thai Shooting entered Country Under Visa-Free Policy #泰国枪击案死伤中国游客系免签入境#, 130 million views).

◼︎ 🏫 4. “Extreme Bullying” Case at Shanxi School. A severe case of intimidation and (sexual) assault at a bilingual primary school in Shanxi has sparked discussions on campus bullying in China in recent weeks. This case is particularly significant because it involves young children; two 4th graders, aged 9, targeted another 10-year-old boy. Not only did the boys subject their classmate to verbal abuse and beatings, they also coerced him into engaging in inappropriate actions with them. The incident garnered nationwide attention after the boy’s parents shared an online message detailing their child’s physical assault and expressing dissatisfaction with the school’s inadequate response, despite enduring this ordeal for a year. Campus bullying has been a longstanding issue in Chinese schools, but cases involving such young perpetrators rarely make headlines. By now, the school principal has been removed from their position. The two minors have been reprimanded. (Weibo hashtag “Police Responds to Online Datong Primary School Bullying Incident” #警方回应网传大同小学生霸凌事件#, 390 million views).

◼︎ 🤢 5. Flowing Noodles Food Poisoning Outbreak. Perhaps you’ve recently noticed a trend surrounding so-called “flowing noodles.” On TikTok and beyond, there have been many videos hyping this style of eating, in which Japanese restaurants offer guests a summer activity where noodles flow down a bamboo chute filled with cool water. In Japan’s Ishikawa, such flowing noodles recently led to a major food poisening outbreak, linked to Campylobacter bacteria, affecting 892 people across 18 prefectures. The restaurant in question was closed after the outbreak. (Weibo hashtag “Japanese Flowing Noodles Causes food Poisening among 892 Individuals” #日本流水面致892人中毒#, 330 million views.)

◼︎ 🚨 6. Shanghai Girl Goes Missing in Sea. A 4-year-old girl from Shanghai went missing in sea in Pudong, as reported by local police on October 6th. The girl had gone to the beach with her family on October 4. As the girl was playing by the seaside, her father briefly left to grab his phone. When he returned, he could not find his daughter and the parents reported her missing shortly after. Despite deploying a substantial search team and employing infrared drones, the girl has yet to be found. Although surveillance videos of the area were blurry, one moment did show the girl walking towards the sea in her father’s absence and disappearing into the sea. Despite the odds, thousands of Weibo users have expressed their hopes for the safe return of the girl. (Hashtag: “Shanghai Police Reports 4-Year-Old Girl Missing at Sea” #上海警方通报4岁女童在海边走失#, 150 million views).

◼︎ 🥮 7. Mid-Autumn Festival & National Day Holidays. As China’s Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day public holiday comes to an end, Chinese media report a boom in domestic tourism numbers, as more people went out to travel this week compared to the same period in pre-Covid 2019. The number of domestic tourists reportedly reached 826 million – a 4.1% increase compared to 2019. During this year’s holiday, music festivals, concerts, and museums were especially popular. (Weibo hashtag: “Mid-Autumn Festival and National Holiday Sees 826 Million Trips #中秋国庆假期国内8.26亿人次出游#, 35 million views).

◼︎ 💻 8. Cyberbullies in Court. In 2022, the Liu Xuezhou case gripped the attention of millions of Chinese netizens. Liu Xuezhou (刘学州) became famous overnight when he used social media to seek help in locating his biological parents. But his quest to find his parents ended in disappointment, and he became the target of relentless online harassment. Overwhelmed by the pressure, Liu took his own life at the age of 15. Now, Liu Xuezhou’s name has resurfaced as a trending topic on social media, but this time it’s due to the commencement of a trial against those responsible for cyberbullying him. The legal action has been initiated by Liu’s family, who are seeking to hold the perpetrators of his online harassment accountable and seek justice on his behalf. The trial, conducted offline, involves two prominent online influencers who had targeted Liu Xuezhou. As of now, a verdict has not been reached (Hashtag “No Verdict Yet in Liu Xuezhou Cyberbully Case” #刘学州被网暴案未当庭宣判#, 9,9 million views).

 

What Lies Behind

Observations beyond the headlines, by Miranda Barnes

Stark Disparities at the Midi Music Festival Theft Controversy

The recent theft incident at Nanyang’s Midi Festival (南阳迷笛音乐节现偷盗事件) has become a major topic of discussion in China this week, and it seems to have been blown out of proportion while new discussions, memes and jokes on the topic keep flooding the internet.

Why did these thefts, which occurred while festivalgoers were enjoying the music, generate so much attention? One key factor is the stark contrast between the two groups involved: the victims were young, tech-savvy urban music fans, while the thieves were older, less digitally savvy locals from rural areas.

The Chinese music enthusiasts who attended Midi Festival are passionate about rock music, live entertainment, immersive experiences, and leisure travel. This consumer group generated a whopping 2.5 billion yuan (US$350 million) in music festival and concert ticket sales in the first half of this year alone. Most of them are young, educated, and socially connected, and they didn’t think twice about bringing their latest digital gadgets, laptops, cameras, and camping gear to enjoy their time in Nanyang. Perhaps it did not even cross their mind that something might happen?

On the flip side, the local villagers involved belong to an entirely different social class. Many of them have lower levels of education and income. They saw an opportunity amidst the festival chaos. Rumors on the internet suggested that the festival was over, and the site needed to be cleared, so they believed that anything left behind was fair game, including valuable items. Some may have genuinely believed this, while others went along with the narrative, assuming they could escape consequences. Some even brought mini pickup trucks to the campsite to take more items home. They seemed oblivious to the efforts and plans local authorities had put into promoting and organizing the festival, which would boost the regional economy in the long run.

These villagers likely live have limited exposure to social media and the digital world around them. Had they been more aware, there is no way they could have thought they could get away with stealing other people’s in broad daylight. They would have realized just how unacceptable it is. Perhaps it did not even cross their mind either that something might happen.

Now, many online discussions focus on alleged slander campaigns against the festival, Nanyang, or even Henan. However, the real issue lies in the stark divide between the rural villagers, who seem unaware of the festival’s broader context, and the urban festivalgoers, who can’t comprehend why these villagers resorted to theft. It’s as if they come from different worlds. This clash serves as a reminder that some individuals have been left behind during China’s rapid economic growth and digitalization. While China’s thriving live music industry brings people together, this particular incident also highlights the stark disparities that persist.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

The most talked-about embrace of the Asian Games | Chinese track & field athletes Lin Yuwei (林雨薇) and Wu Yanni (吴艳妮) shared an emotional embrace following the women’s 100-meter hurdles final at the Asian Games in Hangzhou on October 1st. Chinese athlete Lin Yuwei crossed the finish line first with a time of 12.74 seconds, achieving a personal best, and Wu initially finished second.

A photo of the hug, shot by Vincent Thian for the Associated Press, made international headlines this week. As Lin’s and Wu’s lanes were 6 and 4, the signs of the two women aligned as they hugged, forming the numbers “6-4,” widely seen as a reference to the Tiananmen student protest crackdown of June 4, 1989. As reported by CNN, Chinese state media outlet CCTV originally posted the photograph on Weibo on Sunday night, but removed it from its account about an hour later.

By now, virtually all versions of this image that clearly shows the ‘6’ and ‘4’ lined up have been removed from Weibo and beyond. The reference to the date, especially on China’s National Day, was undoubtedly deemed too sensitive. This incident was soon covered by BBC, The Guardian, and many other Western media outlets, as sign of Chinese political censorship.

In China, however, it was not the photo nor its censorship that created a buzz on social media, but the fact that Wu Yanni was later disqualified from the 100m hurdles final after a false start. Wu posted an apology on Monday, expressing her respect for the referee’s final decision. She also received some criticism for dragging the Chinese flag on the ground, while her fellow athlete Lin Yuwei held the flag up at all times. The hashtag “Wu Yanni disqualified” (#吴艳妮成绩被取消#) racked up 430 million views on Weibo.

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

Shaq here, Shaq there, Shaq everywhere | It’s been a busy China week for Shaquille O’Neal. The American former professional basketball player has been touring Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Macao. Photos on social media showed how ‘Shaq’ seemed to be everywhere at once while having a seemingly great time, and grabbing all the promo-activities he could. His China tour was, among others, sponsored by Gillette, and fans could get tickets for a meet & greet with their “giant” hero. Shaq has been to China many times before but this was his first post-pandemic tour, and it was probably a good opportunity for him and his team to make some 💰💰💰. He did various Asian Games-related activities, did some Papa John’s promotions, got acquainted with a local group of square-dancing grannies, participated in a promotion on Taobao for the Mid-Autumn Festival, went out on a scooter ride in Hangzhou, and had loads of mooncakes and called himself “half Chinese”, which then went trending on Weibo (he was also making mooncakes, but the gloves did not fit him.).

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

Fun, Fast, Frugal Travel | In this post ‘Covid zero’ year, ‘special forces travelers’ are flooding popular tourist spots across China. Their mission is clear: covering as many places as possible at the lowest cost and within a limited time. While the travel trend has become a social media hype, there are also those criticizing the trend for being superficial and troublesome. This article, from our archives just five months ago, is all the more relevant during this National Holiday.

Read more
 

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Far Ahead” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “遥遥领先” (yáo yáo lǐng xiān) which translates to “be far ahead.”

During the much-anticipated Huawei launch event on September 25, consumer chief Richard Yu unveiled an impressive array of Huawei’s latest products and innovations, such as the latest version of its MatePad Pro (the world’s lightest and thinnest tablet of its kind), a new smart TV, wireless earphones, and he also announced Huawei’s first sedan, the Luxeed S7, which allegedly will be “superior” to Tesla’s Model S “in every specification.”

During his speech, Yu recurringly used the phrase “far ahead”, “遥遥领先” (yáo yáo lǐng xiān), to indicate that Huawei is fully future-proof and far ahead of other companies. As a result, the phrase became popular among Chinese netizens, who started using it for all kinds of things.

It did not take long for the phrase to get registered as a trademark by some business owners in Shenzhen who hope it might bring them some profit (#遥遥领先已被注册商标#). One thing is sure: they were the first and ‘far ahead’ of others.

This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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Featured

Weibo Watch: Burning BMWs

About Qingming, nitpicking, Oppenheimer in Japan, other trends, and how we’re all burning BMWs in our own different ways.

Manya Koetse

Published

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #26

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Burning BMWs
◼︎ 2. What’s Been Trending – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What More to Know – Five bit-sized trends
◼︎ 4. What’s the Drama – Top TV to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – For Yiwu, the Olympic Games have begun
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – A Chinese song goes viral on TikTok
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Which language does Ma Ying-jeou speak?
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – Nitpicking

 

Dear Reader,

 

Expensive watches, cigarettes, jewelry, and liquor – there’s a wide array of offerings for ancestors beyond ‘ghost money’ and food. This week marks China’s Qingming Festival (清明节), also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, a special time to honor family ancestors by visiting graves, making offerings, and burning spirit money and other paper tributes.

In this age of e-commerce, the ancient ritual of paper offerings has undergone some changes, becoming more diverse and extravagant. Thanks to platforms like Taobao, people now have instant access to a variety of ritual paper gifts. By burning them, it’s believed these offerings are sent to the afterlife, hopefully pleasing the ancestors.

As symbols of power and status evolve, gold and silver paper alone are no longer enough in the 21st century. Nowadays, one can purchase paper replicas of golden credit cards, iPhones, smartwatches, massage chairs, designer bags, rice cookers, furniture, air conditioners, refrigerators, bodyguard ‘puppets,’ and even BMW cars.

Examples of the various paper offerings available on Taobao: red BMW car, tablets & smartphones, air conditioner, luxury watches, creditcard, massage chair.

Some take it a step further and create entire paper replicas of two-story villas or palaces to honor their ancestors (see video). As many cities already grapple with air quality issues and smog, these customs have sparked discussions for years, with some places prohibiting burning incense and paper during Qingming.

People set up entire paper replicas of two-story villas to honor their ancestors (image circulating on Weibo).

This year, there’s been increased debate surrounding the burning of paper offerings during Qingming. Authorities in Jiangsu’s Nantong, one of China’s fastest-aging cities, recently announced a city-wide ban on the production and sales of paper effigies due to concerns over air pollution and fire safety risks.

The ban has sparked discussions across Chinese social media, particularly because Nantong authorities referred to the custom of burning paper as “feudal superstition” (“封建迷信”).

In China, the practice of making paper replicas of worldly items and ‘sending’ them to deceased family members through fire and smoke is at least a thousand years old. It’s a spiritual aspect of daily life that has become more than tradition alone – it’s deeply ingrained in many families’ lives.1

Image by The Paper, 2015: link.

The numerous comments on Weibo this week underscore how significant this topic is for many people. Some threads received over 179,000 likes and over 11,000 replies.

Although opinions vary, it’s evident that most people feel Nantong’s ban was too stringent and that they should be more cautious about banning centuries-old traditions. Some sarcastic comments suggest if they care so much about safety, they should focus more on food regulations instead.

Others note that the city has many Christian churches where people can honor their religion as they please, and that Chinese traditional folk beliefs should not be diminished or looked down upon compared to these Western-based religions.

The popular Weibo account “Xu Ji Observation” (@徐记观察), known for promoting positive online content and the “mass line,” suggested that while the practice of burning entire paper houses reaching two stories high should be abandoned, there should still be room for people to burn smaller paper offerings. There shouldn’t be a “one-size-fits-all approach,” they wrote.

Every year, hundreds of tons of paper are burned in Chinese cities. Besides the billions of yuan spent on paper itself, there are also considerable costs in terms of time and labor to clean up the ash piles.

Ultimately, the question revolves around what is considered ‘extravagant,’ ‘silly,’ or ‘superstitious,’ and where the line is drawn between tradition and absurdity. Some draw the line at anything taller than one story. Others believe anything beyond paper money alone is unnecessarily harmful to the environment, and everyone burning paper items should consider the negative impact.

What’s striking about these discussions is that while they focus on things literally going up in smoke, they also reflect on the world around us. After all, when people are driving around in huge SUVs, consuming plastics, wasting water, constantly buying new gadgets and laptops, and indulging in fast fashion, it seems odd to fuss over sacrificing a paper car for a beloved grandparent. In the end, we’re all burning BMWs in our own different ways. These discussions about where we draw the line, whether in our current world or in our rituals for the afterlife, will only become more prominent over time.

Despite all the discussions and controversy surrounding this Qingming festival, Nantong’s ban has been upheld. Officials argue that instead of elaborate paper items like puppets, purses, and palaces, ancestors would be just as pleased with flowers on their graves. Though less flashy, it’s much better for the environment.

Best,
Manya (@manyapan)


  1. Blake, C. Fred. Burning Money : The Material Spirit of the Chinese Lifeworld. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011.

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: China’s New City Marketing | Since the early post-pandemic days, Chinese cities have stepped up their game to attract more tourists. The dynamics of Chinese social media make it possible for smaller, lesser-known destinations to gain overnight fame as a ‘celebrity city.’ Now, it’s Tianshui’s turn to shine with its special take on malatang. City marketing in China will never be the same again. Read all about it here👇🏼

Read more
 

2: Micro Drama, Major Profit | Closely intertwined with the Chinese social media landscape and the fast-paced online entertainment scene, micro dramas have emerged as an immensely popular way to enjoy dramas in bite-sized portions. With their short-format style, these dramas have become big business, leading Chinese production studios to compete and rush to create the next ‘mini’ hit.

Read more
 

3: Bolt from the Blue | Two years after the tragic crash of MU5735, a new report on the ongoing investigation into the cause of the plane crash has been released. According to China’s Civil Aviation Administration, the report has found “no abnormalities” in the circumstances surrounding the MU5735 incident. Even after two years since the plane nosedived mid-air, people are still awaiting clear answers on what caused the devastating crash in Guangxi, which claimed the lives of all 132 people on board.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Five Bite-Sized Trends

◼︎ ⛑️ Taiwan Earthquake | After the 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Taiwan on April 3, expressions of solidarity and support for “our Taiwan compatriots” flooded Chinese social media. However, amidst these sentiments, there were also instances of people mocking the disaster, which claimed the lives of at least 9 people and left over 1000 injured. Weibo management cautioned users against posting content that “lacked empathy” in the wake of the devastating earthquake. Following the quake, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council promptly offered disaster assistance, but Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council declined, stating that assistance was unnecessary. However, the decision by the Taipei government to accept Japan’s aid, specifically for using hi-tech equipment to detect signs of life, was criticized by netizens. Some nationalistic bloggers even commented that this would be an opportune time to “reunify with the motherland.”

◼︎ 😢 Ma Ying-Jeou’s ‘Voyage of Trust’ | At the invitation of Beijing, former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is currently visiting the Chinese mainland. His 11-day trip to China began last Monday. It is anticipated that he will also hold a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping next week. Accompanying Ma on this visit is a group of Taiwanese students, and the focus is on cultural exchange, labeled as ‘a voyage of trust.’ Last year, Ma made history as the first former Taiwanese leader to visit China. Given the escalating tensions over Taiwan’s status, his current visit holds particular significance. Serving as president from 2008 to 2016, Ma emphasizes peace and connectivity, according to his own statements. On Chinese social media, there’s much discussion about Ma’s tendency to become emotional quickly. He shed tears last year while visiting his family’s grave in Hunan, and this year, he displayed his emotional side on multiple occasions once again. Some people believe it’s inappropriate for a (former) leader to be so emotionally expressive. As one Weibo blogger questioned, “Ma Ying-jeou cries from dawn till night, from night till dawn. Can crying bring about the reunification with Taiwan?”

◼︎ 🥀 Chongqing Mother Kills Toddler Son | A video circulating on Chinese social media this week has shocked viewers, depicting a 37-year-old mother throwing her 3-year-old son out of a window from a 22nd-floor apartment in Chongqing’s Banan District. The tragic incident occurred on the morning of April 1st. Police reports indicate that prior to this, the woman also attacked her mother-in-law with a knife. While investigations are ongoing, there is speculation online regarding the mother’s mental state. Commentator Hu Xijin emphasized in a recent column the urgent need for increased awareness and support for mental health issues, stressing that it could be a matter of life or death. This case also evokes memories of the “Chongqing Siblings’ Falling Case” (重庆姐弟坠亡案) in 2020, where two siblings (a girl, 2, and a boy, 1) from Chongqing were killed after being thrown from a high-rise apartment window on the 15th floor. Their father and his girlfriend, who allegedly couldn’t accept the children from his previous marriage, were both sentenced to death for their crime and executed on January 31st of this year by lethal injection.

◼︎ 🎬 Oppenheimer in Japan | Japanese filmgoers’ mixed and emotional reactions to the American Oscar-winning movie “Oppenheimer” sparked discussions on Chinese social media this week. The movie finally hit Japanese cinemas on March 29, eight months after its initial premiere, which drew controversy in Japan due to the humorous marketing of the film alongside the release of Barbie (which led to the creation of the ‘Barbenheimer’ meme). The movie centers around the American ‘father of the atom bomb,’ Oppenheimer, and the events leading to the devastating bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It has faced criticism in Japan for being America-centric and failing to fully depict the horror of nuclear weapons. Chinese netizens showed little understanding for the mixed feelings about the movie in Japan. With the history of the Sino-Japanese War still very much alive in China today, some people wonder why many Japanese people do not have “mixed feelings” about paying respect to the war dead at the Tokyo Yasukuni Shrine. “They’re playing the victim again,” various commenters wrote. (For Dutch-speaking readers, I discussed this topic on Dutch Radio 1; listen to the interview here.)

◼︎ 🇺🇸 Yellen Again | U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is visiting China for the second time since summer this week, from April 4th to 9th. Yellen’s itinerary includes meetings with top Chinese officials in both Guangzhou and Beijing, aiming to address ongoing bilateral tensions and manage trade relations between the two countries. Apart from engagements with officials, Yellen will also meet with students and business leaders during her visit. This trip follows a recent phone call between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. While many social media discussions focus on the key topics of Yellen’s visit, there is also curiosity among netizens about whether or not she will eat ‘magic mushrooms’ again during this trip. At the time of Yellen’s last visit in 2023, she went viral for dining at a Yunnan restaurant in Beijing, where she was served mushrooms that had hallucinogenic properties (read here).

 

What’s the Drama

Top TV to Watch

Given the current surge in popularity of Chinese short dramas, let’s introduce you to one of the hottest mini series of the moment: “Fortune Writer” (执笔, zhíbǐ) [“Writing”]. It’s a fantasy costume drama centered around Su Yunqi (苏云绮), who discovers she’s the villainous female lead in a novel—no happy endings for her. Unwilling to accept her fate, Su embarks on a mission to rewrite her life. Released on March 20, this short drama has a total of 24 episodes lasting about 15 minutes each—slightly longer than other popular ‘micro-dramas,’ some of which are only 2-3 minutes per episode nowadays.

Noteworthy:

▶️ This drama’s script is adapted from a series of stories shared on Zhihu’s short story platform, Yanyan Gushi (知乎盐言故事), by the author Lin Yannian (林言年), who also directed the drama.
▶️ In addition to the micro-drama and short story, there is also a podcast available, so fans of this series can enjoy reading, watching, and listening.
▶️ The widespread acclaim for “Fortune Writer” is seen as a sign that the Yanyan Gushi short story app might just be the next goldmine for the Chinese drama and film industry, as short story dramatization is becoming increasingly popular. To date, nearly a hundred stories or series published on Yanyan Gushi have been authorized for film and television adaptations.

You can watch Fortune Writer online here (no English subtitles), or on WeTV here with English subtitles.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

The countdown to the Summer Olympic Games in Paris has begun. Even though we still have some 112 days to go before July 26, there is one city in China that is already fully immersed in the Olympic atmosphere. That city is Yiwu in Zhejiang province, where local companies have already exported $76 million worth of Olympic-related products to France within an eight-week timeframe. From shirts, scarves, and caps for sports fans to trophies and medals for athletes, Yiwu is manufacturing a diverse array of clothing, fan accessories, and other Olympic merchandise. Local businesses are currently operating at full capacity, with many working overtime to fulfill orders.

Yiwu, Zhejiang, is renowned as China’s largest “small commodities city” and, with its expansive International Trade City, serves as the global hub for Christmas merchandise. Following a report by CCTV on Yiwu’s soaring Olympic-related export sales, netizens have expressed pride in Yiwu’s entrepreneurial spirit: “I really admire the people of Yiwu for how fast they are in seizing business opportunities. Time and time again, they make accurate predictions and receive massive orders. Regardless of where the Olympics are held, it’s always Yiwu laughing all the way to the bank!” Others remarked, “We’re an export country, after all.”

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

If you’re an avid TikTok user, you’ve likely come across numerous videos of users lip-syncing to a Chinese song. The song, titled “This Life’s Fate” (今生缘), has evolved into a social media challenge where TikTokers strive to deliver a flawless performance without necessarily understanding its meaning (watch video here). If you’re curious to learn more about the song behind this trend and what it actually means, continue reading here 👇.

Read more
 

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

This pick from our archive takes us back to last year’s trip to the mainland by former Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou. One aspect of his trip received relatively little attention in the media, even though it generated some buzz among Chinese netizens: Ma’s way of speaking Chinese. What language did he use during his 10-minute speech at Hunan University and while he was paying repects at the graves of his ancestors? Jin Luo explains.👇

Read more

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Flashlight Evaluation” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “Flashlight Damage Assessment” or “Portable Lamp Property” (tídēng dìngsǔn 提灯定损), shortened to “Flashlight Evaluation”, a term recently coined by Chinese netizens in response to a story where a landlord conducted a post-lease property inspection by carrying around a large lamp, meticulously shining it into every corner and inspecting every inch of the apartment.

In this context, “Flashlight Evaluation” actually means ‘nitpicking’.

The incident that gave rise to this term went viral on March 28, 2024, after a woman from Shangrao’s Yushan County posted a 10-minute video depicting her landlord inspecting the apartment for damage using a large portable lamp as she prepared to move out. After scrutinizing the property, which the landlord himself constructed, he reportedly compiled a list of all the (minor) damages he found and demanded over 10,000 yuan ($1380) in compensation from the tenant – a substantial sum, particularly considering the monthly rent was only 1200 yuan ($165) and the tenant resided there for just 22 days.

Following the incident’s online explosion, local authorities in Yushan County established an investigation team to probe the matter. According to the latest reports, the landlord has now refunded the tenant’s money. On top of that, he has been detained for throwing bricks at people. I bet he’s fun at parties.

 
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Weibo Watch: Explosive Material

From nationalist influencers to the Handan murder case, Chinese social media was ablaze with more explosive topics this week than the Yanjiao blast alone.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #25

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Explosive material
◼︎ 2. What’s Been Trending – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What More to Know – Five bit-sized trends
◼︎ 4. What’s the Drama – Top TV to watch
◼︎ 5. What Lies Behind – Justice & social neglect in the Handan murder case
◼︎ 6. What’s Noteworthy – A 61-year-old twin toddler mom
◼︎ 7. What’s Popular – AI brings celebrities back from the dead
◼︎ 8. What’s Memorable – TikTok CEO hailed as “Asian hero”
◼︎ 9. Weibo Word of the Week – “Mellow People”

 

Dear Reader,

 

A devastating explosion in North China’s Yanjiao, claiming the lives of seven and injuring 27 others, has dominated Chinese social media discussions over the past few days. The incident not only raised questions about the cause of the blast but also sparked concerns about press freedom, as Chinese reporters were reportedly obstructed from their work at the scene. This fueled suspicions that local authorities might be withholding information from the public.

Despite its significant impact, the Yanjiao blast was not the most combustible topic on Chinese social media. Various other incidents and issues gained traction, largely driven by online nationalists.

The most eye-catching issue has been the so-called “battle of the two water bottles” (两瓶水之争), which emerged after the recent death of the much-beloved Chinese entrepreneur Zong Qinghou (宗庆后), founder of the Wahaha company known for its bottled water and beverages.

As detailed in our latest article here, a support campaign for the Wahaha brand morphed into a witch hunt against its major domestic competitor, Nongfu Spring. While Zong Qinghou was lauded as a patriotic entrepreneur, Nongfu Spring’s founder, billionaire Zhong Shanshan (钟睒睒), faced criticism for supposedly prioritizing profit over national interests.

From Weibo to Douyin and beyond, online influencers came up with all kinds of reasons why Nongfu Spring should be seen as an unpatriotic Chinese brand, from its product packaging containing Japanese elements to its water containing bugs.

One point of ongoing contention is the fact that Zhong’s son (his heir, Zhong Shuzi 钟墅子) holds American citizenship. This sparked anger among netizens who questioned Zhong’s allegiance to China. Numerous Douyin videos showed livestreamers pouring bottles of Nongfu Spring water down the drain, small shop owners recorded themselves removing Nongfu Spring products from store shelves, and overall sales plummeted. Because the issue was about affordable bottled water, participating in these kinds of ‘patriotic’ activities was relatively easy; consumer nationalism has never been cheaper.

When Chinese entrepreneur Li Guoqing (李国庆), co-founder of the e-commerce company Dangdang, defended Nongfu Spring and called for rationality, he too came under fire. Wasn’t his own son, Li Chengqing (李成青), an American citizen as well? Rumors about other Chinese entrepreneurs also started gaining traction.

While grassroots nationalist activities on Douyin and nationalist trends on Weibo aren’t new, the recent campaign against Nongfu Spring stands out as it targets a domestic company. Typically, Chinese online nationalism focuses on foreign brands, encouraging consumers to boycott foreign products and support domestic ones (buycott).

For instance, in 2021, Nike faced backlash and boycotts in China for its stance on Xinjiang cotton and a viral incident involving discrimination against a rural migrant worker by a Nike employee. The Chinese sportswear brand Erke indirectly profited from existing consumer sentiments over Nike, positioning itself as a patriotic alternative (read more here).

The current boycott of Nongfu Spring in favor of another ‘more patriotic’ Chinese brand represents a shift in online nationalism. It’s not top-down, it’s not state-led, and it’s not necessarily driven by political ideology. On the one hand, this is a sign of Chinese economic growth as domestic brands and companies are no longer considered the ‘underdog’ in a market dominated by bigger foreign brands. It reflects Chinese consumers’ confidence in made-in-China brands and a desire for them to embody their national identity.

On the other hand, this movement sheds light on the dynamics of contemporary Chinese social media and “the business of nationalism” (also described by Zhang & Ma, 2023, 899). Various actors in the Chinese digital ecosystem profit from the commodification of nationalist content on platforms like Weibo and Douyin, where patriotism and aggressive nationalism are amplified for commercial gain (Liao & Xia 2023, 1536).

Influencers, too, capitalize on patriotic narratives to garner attention, often at the expense of balanced discourse, as the algorithm pushes aggressively nationalist discourses to the forefront (Schneider 2022, 277).

Regular users of these platforms find themselves navigating an environment where extreme views dominate, perpetuating a cycle of nationalism. With a click, post, or video, they can be part of an online nationalist movement that’s driven by hype, not necessarily representative of nationalism on the ground, and sometimes more fleeting than a fast food trend — you could call it nationalist clicktivism.

All of this forms a toxic cocktail that can flare up and become explosive from time to time. But, this too shall pass. Some smart Chinese restaurant owners know that as well. They have started buying Nongfu Spring water in bulk. The price has never been lower, and the water will still be sellable by the time the storm has calmed. For them, too, nationalism has never been cheaper.

Best,
Manya (@manyapan)

References:

Liao, Sara and Grace Xia. 2023. “Consumer Nationalism in Digital Space: A Case-Study of the 2017 Anti-Lotte Boycott in China”. Convergence, 29(6), 1535-1554.

Schneider, Florian. 2022. “Emergent Nationalism in China’s Sociotechnical Networks: How Technological Affordance and Complexity Amplify Digital Nationalism.” Nations & Nationalism 28(1): 267-285.

Zhang, Chi and Yiben Ma. 2023. “Invented Borders: The Tension Between Grassroots Patriotism and State-Led Campaigns in China.” Journal of Contemporary China, 32(144), 897-913.

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: Wahaha vs Nongfu Spring | It’s the big topic that’s been fermenting online for some time now: Nongfu and the online nationalists. The praise for one Chinese domestic water bottle brand, Wahaha, sparked online animosity toward the other, Nongfu Spring, after the death of Wahaha founder Zong Qinghou. While Wahaha is seen as a patriotic, proudly made-in-China brand, big competitor Nongfu Spring and its founder Zhong Shanshan are under attack for allegedly being profit-driven and disloyal to China. The online anti-Nongfu campaign has even led to people pouring out their Nongfu Spring water bottles. Read all about it here👇🏼

Read more
 

2: Party Slogan, Weibo Hashtag | A hashtag promoted by Party newspaper People’s Daily recently became top trending: “Wang Yi Says the Next China Will Still Be China” (#王毅说下一个中国还是中国#). The hashtag refers to statements made by China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi (王毅), during a press conference held alongside the Second Session of the 14th National People’s Congress. After Wang Yi’s remarks, the sentence ‘the next China will still be China’ has now solidified its place as a new catchphrase in the Communist Party jargon. But what does it actually mean?

Read more
 

3: Online Tributes to Toriyama | Chinese fans have been mourning the death of Japanese manga artist and character creator Akira Toriyama. On March 8, his production company confirmed that the 68-year-old artist passed away due to acute subdural hematoma. On Weibo, a hashtag related to his passing became trending as netizens shared their memories and appreciation for Toriyama’s work, as well as creating fan art in his honor (also see this tweet). Chinese readers form the largest fan community for Japanese comics and anime, and for many Chinese, the influential creations of Akira Toriyama, like “Dr. Slump” and particularly “Dragon Ball,” are cherished as part of their childhood or teenage memories.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Five Bite-Sized Trends

◼︎ 🏛️ Boy Murdered by Classmates | A case in which a young boy from Feixiang county in Handan, Hebei, was murdered by three classmates has recently shocked the nation. The young boy, Wang Ziyao (王子耀), had suffered years of bullying before his three classmates, all 13 years old, brutally killed him. Wang had been missing for one day before his body was discovered buried in a greenhouse in a field nearby the home of one of the suspects. While the three suspects have now been detained, netizens and legal scholars are discussing whether the case could be handled by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP). Since an amendment to China’s Criminal Law in 2021, children between the ages of 12-14 can be held criminally responsible for extreme and cruel cases resulting in death or severe disability, if approved for prosecution by the SPP. A chilling video showing the palpable shock in Handan after Wang’s body was recovered by authorities also made its rounds online, see here. (Various related Weibo hashtags, including “#13-Year-Old Middle School Student Killed By Classmate, Three Arrested” #13岁初中生被同学杀害三人被刑拘#, 150 million views; “#CNR Discusses Case in Which Junior High School Student Was Killed and Buried by 3 Classmates #央广网评初中生被3名同学杀害掩埋#, 200 million views).

◼︎ ♪ U.S. TikTok Ban | Besides the battle over water, the battle over TikTok has also generated hashtags and discussions on Chinese social media after the US House of Representatives passed a bill that could lead to an American TikTok ban if parent company Bytedance does not sell the app. Security concerns surrounding TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese company and its access to American data have existed ever since the app became popular in the US, where it now has over 170 million users. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denounced the bill, suggesting it was unfair for US to cite security reasons to “arbitrarily” suppress TikTok. Many social media commenters agree with this stance, suggesting the app is solely targeted because of its Chinese parent company, unrelated to actual security risks. The Singaporean TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew (周受资) is expected to pay US legislators a visit in the coming days to fight against the ban, which is something many netizens are looking forward to (Shou Zi Chew is very popular on Weibo). (Hashtag: “American House of Representatives Passes Tiktok Bill” #美众议院通过tiktok法案#, 160 million views; “#TikTok Strikes Back” #TikTok开始反击#, 140 million views).

◼︎ 🛒 Livestreaming Chaos | Many different topics popped up during this year’s 3.15 Consumer Day and the two-hour annual Chinese Consumer Day Gala television show, which is all about raising awareness of consumer rights. One hot topic within this context is China’s “chaos of live-streaming e-commerce” (直播带货乱象). People’s Daily reported that in 2023 alone, more than half (56.1%) of the complaints received at the “12315” consumer hotline were related to online shopping, primarily through livestreaming. Over the span of five years, complaints regarding live e-commerce have surged by 47 times. The primary concerns revolve around after-sales service problems, such as the difficulty in returning items, and quality issues, wherein products showcased in livestreams differ from what customers actually receive. (Hashtag “#Most After-Sales Complaints About Livestreaming Ecommerce” #售后服务直播带货投诉排名第一#, 34.8 million views).

◼︎ 🇬🇧 Where’s Kate? | Speculation and controversy surrounding the whereabouts of the Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, have also surfaced on Weibo, where discussions about the UK royals have been trending in recent days. Worldwide, rumors about her condition emerged following her absence from any official public appearances since January 16, when she underwent abdominal surgery. The situation intensified when a photo of the Princess and her children, shared on Mother’s Day, raised suspicions of editing and photoshopping. Although Kate took responsibility for altering the image herself, the internet erupted with various theories about her situation, ranging from serious illness to marital issues or even another pregnancy. Some commenters suggest the Chinese interest in the issue is because “we love to watch palace drama.” (Hashtag “Where is Princess Kate?” #凯特王妃去哪了#, 40 million views; “Rumors of Princess Kate Missing Stirs Up UK” #凯特王妃失踪传闻搅动英国#, 43 million views).

◼︎ 🖋️ Chinese Author Mo Yan Under Attack | Another story that has been circulating online for some time involves Chinese blogger Wu Wanzheng (@说真话的毛星火) initiating a lawsuit against the renowned Chinese author and Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan (莫言). Wu accuses Mo Yan of distorting history and tarnishing the legacy of the Communist Party in his 1986 novel Red Sorghum (红高粱). The well-known Chinese internet commentator Hu Xijin recently came to Mo Yan’s defense, which actually increased media attention for the case. Although the initial attempt to sue Mo Yan was rejected by a Beijing court, Wu allegedly intends to persist with his mission. Opinions on the matter are divided: while some believe Wu is within his rights to pursue legal action against Mo Yan, others view the entire affair as a sensationalist grab for attention. Meanwhile, various articles and hashtags about the case have been taken offline (Weibo hashtag “Mo Yan Sued” #莫言被起诉#, 1.8 million views; “Hu Xijin: Person Suing Mo Yan Is Taking Words Out of Context” #胡锡进称起诉莫言者是在扣帽子断章取义#, 29 million clicks).

 

What’s the Drama

Top TV to Watch

The Chinese historical drama “In Blossom” (花间令) currently ranks number one on Weibo. It premiered on the streaming platform Youku on March 15. The costume drama revolves around the story of the handsome Pan Yue (Liu Xueyi 刘学义), who marries Yang Caiwei (played by Ju Jingyi 鞠婧祎). She is murdered on the night of their wedding, and he is the prime suspect. But Yang Caiwei miraculously returns from the dead to uncover the truth.

▶️ This drama was directed by Zhong Qing (钟青), who is best known for directing suspenseful and romantic dramas.
▶️ The Weibo hashtag about “In Blossom” has received over two billion views already (#花间令#).
▶️ The first day after “In Blossom” was released, it already broke some viewing records; on March 16, 13.6% of Youku audiences had watched the drama, making it the first drama this year to become so popular within such a short timeframe.

You can watch In Blossom with English subtitles via YouTube here.

 

What Lies Behind

Observations beyond the headlines, by Miranda Barnes

With emotions running high on social media, many are eager to learn about the fate awaiting the three young perpetrators in the trending case of the bullied boy from Handan, Hebei, who was killed and buried by his classmates. Online discussions mostly revolve around the legal and social aspects of this case.

There’s widespread frustration over the possibility of lenient punishment for the 13-year-old suspects due to their age. As China still has capital punishment, some people are even calling for execution once they turn 18.

These sentiments do not come out of the blue. In recent years, China has seen a rise in crimes, including murders, committed by minors. Many people are worried that without properly addressing the bullying problems that are prevalent among young people, the country will only see an increase in minors committing serious crimes like assault, rape and murder.

Online discussions show that people are reluctant to accept the “Law on the Protection of Minors” which recognizes the limited understanding young offenders may have of their own actions’ gravity and consequences. Chinese criminal psychologist and youth education expert Mei Jinli (李玫瑾) suggests that families or legal guardians should bear part of the responsibility exempted from the child due to their age.

Another issue that has caught people’s attention in this case is that all suspects and the victim are so-called “left-behind children” (留守儿童). With over 295 million Chinese rural migrant workers leaving their hometowns to find jobs in the city, many find themselves unable to bring their children due to the household registration system in China. Instead, they leave their children behind with grandparents or family.

Chinese experts and charities have been raising awareness of psychological trauma among these children – there are some 67 million of them – and are calling for changes in the household registration system so that migrant workers can bring their children with them instead of leaving them to fend for themselves.

The comments surrounding this case highlight how deeply it resonates with many. One commenter said he was a left-behind child himself, and when he saw the words “left-behind children” and “raised by grandparents” in the news, he couldn’t help but burst into tears.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

During the Two Sessions, China’s annual parliamentary meetings, numerous proposals and “suggestions” (建议) put forth by National People’s Congress delegates became trending topics on Chinese social media. While a proposal in 2020 aimed to prohibit single women from freezing their eggs to encourage them to “marry and reproduce at the appropriate age,” a recent proposal suggests the opposite approach to address China’s declining birth rates: improving fertility treatment options for older Chinese women to facilitate childbearing for older parents.

Uncoincidentally, during the same week, a Chinese media outlet shared the story of a 61-year-old twin mom recounting her experience of ‘late parenthood.’ Having lost her 26-year-old son in a car accident in 2014, Zhang Yumei attempted to conceive for seven years and eventually welcomed healthy twin daughters in 2021, at the age of 58. In an interview with Chinese media, the senior citizen expressed that her two children have given her “the courage to continue living.” The story garnered significant attention on Chinese social media, with many sympathizing with Zhang Yumei. However, some netizens speculated whether authorities would now begin encouraging elderly women to use donated eggs for childbirth.

Read more about other proposals made during the Two Session in our article here.

Read more
 

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

This video shows Chinese singer & actor Qiao Renliang (乔任梁) in 2024. He actually died in 2016.

Using AI tools, Chinese social media users are reviving deceased celebrities like Qiao, Coco Lee, or Godfrey Gao. By using old videos and images, artificial intelligence digitally recreates them, bringing them back to life in online videos. A recent example sparking controversy is the video featuring Chinese singer and actor Kimi Qiao Renliang (乔任梁), who took his own life in 2016 at the age of 28. In the AI-generated video, Qiao states, “Actually, I never really left…”

His parents are unsettled by the video. Qiao’s father is now urging netizens to delete these videos of his son. He says they were created without permission and violate his son’s portrait rights. It has sparked some much-needed discussion on the legal and ethical issues surrounding so-called ‘AI resurrection’ (AI复活).

In an online poll conducted by Sina Hotspot (新浪热点) among 80,000 netizens on Weibo, a significant majority of respondents, over 66,000, expressed that recreating deceased celebrities is unacceptable. Only 2,100 people said they see practice as a nice way to remember celebrities who’ve passed.

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

This pick from our archive takes us back to when Shou Zi Chew (周受资, Zhou Shouzi), the Singaporean CEO of TikTok, appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the United States, facing a four-and-a-half-hour hearing over data security and harmful content on the TikTok app. Some bloggers and commenters noted how Chew fits the supposed idea of a ‘perfect Asian’ by staying calm despite unreasonable allegations and emphasizing business interests over culture. The so-called “Mr. Perfect In the Eye of the Storm” is going back to defend TikTok this week, so we can expect him to receive a lot of support from Chinese netizens again. Read more about it here 👇

Read more

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Mellow People” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “Mellow People” or “Mellow Person” (dàn rén 淡人), a term that’s popped up recently to self-describe the mental state of young people in China today.

The word dàn 淡, which I’ve translated as ‘mellow’ in this context, can mean numerous things in China: it’s light, calm, indifferent, pale, or even trivial. Being a dàn individual, a dànrén 淡人, has recently come to be used by young people to describe themselves and how they experience life. They might want to quit their crappy job, but it generates money so it’s okay. They have to commute for hours every day, but the rent is cheaper so it’s okay. They are being forced to go on blind dates by their parents and actually don’t want to, but they don’t have the energy to refuse so it’s okay.

Being this ‘mellow’ or ‘unperturbed’ means being indifferent in a calm and light way. Not unlike previous Chinese popular expressions such as “lying flat” (躺平) and being “Buddha-like” (佛系) (read here), it’s a way to cope with the challenges and pressures faced by Chinese young people today, but it’s a bit more positive than being completely passive (lying flat): it’s a passive acceptance of life as it is, embracing dull daily routines or competitive work environments without resistance. The art of being or becoming a dàn rén is also referred to as 淡人学 dànrén xué, which could be translated as ‘Mellowism’ or, perhaps even better, ‘Unperturbabilism.’

 
This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

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